A Comparison of Undergraduate and Masters Dissertations

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05/11/19 Reference this

A Comparison of Undergraduate and Masters Dissertations: Exploring the Similarities and Differences

If you have completed an undergraduate course, and are now embarking on a masters degree, you should note that there are a number of similarities and differences when it comes to the dissertation element of these courses.

Similarities Between Masters and Undergraduate Dissertations

  • The structure of both undergraduate and masters degree dissertations will tend to be similar, with a cover page, abstract, contents page, introduction, methodology, literature review, discussion/analysis, conclusion, bibliography, and appendices being typical.
  • The format and style of writing will tend to be similar, although a masters dissertation should be a little tighter if higher marks are to be achieved.
  • You will likely need a proposal for both an undergraduate dissertation and a masters dissertation, although the latter may be more in-depth.
  • All of the usual academic rules and regulations will, of course, apply, including rules pertaining to referencing and citations and plagiarism.
  • Personal tutors and supervisors will be available to assist on both pieces of work, but there is likely to be more ‘hand-holding’ on an undergraduate dissertation.
  • You will need to plan both an undergraduate dissertation and a masters dissertation well, with both being long-term projects.

Differences Between Masters and Undergraduate Dissertations

  • A masters degree dissertation tends to be longer than an undergraduate degree dissertation.
  • A masters degree dissertation will be marked at a higher standard (so a grade B at undergraduate level will likely be a grade C at masters degree level).
  • You will need more references for a masters dissertation (due to the piece being longer).
  • You will need better quality references for a masters dissertation (which will primarily be made up of peer-reviewed journal articles, books, and reports).
  • The research proposal element of the dissertation is likely to be more in-depth at masters level.
  • A greater level of autonomy is also likely to be expected when writing your masters degree dissertation.

The Similarities Between Undergraduate and Masters Dissertations

There are a number of similarities to note when it comes to undergraduate and masters degree dissertations. To begin with, the structure of a bachelors degree tends to be similar to that of a masters degree, with there being comparable chapters in both, which typically include: a cover page, an abstract, a contents page, an introduction chapter, a methodology chapter, a literature review chapter, a discussion/analysis chapter, a conclusion chapter, a bibliography, and an appendices. This can, of course, vary, depending upon the course and the university, but this generally remains fairly consistent and standardised, within reason. Moreover, another similarity is that the format and style of writing in an undergraduate and a masters degree dissertation tends to be similar, although one might expect a masters degree to be slightly tighter in respect of the writing, and so it might be prudent to do a little extra proofreading to check for any grammar or spelling mistakes before submitting a masters dissertation. In addition, for both an undergraduate and a masters degree dissertation a proposal for the study will likely be required (although this is not always the case for an undergraduate dissertation, depending upon the course and the university). However, for the latter, a longer proposal is the norm, which will need to be more in-depth, to ensure that the work is going in the right direction before beginning the lengthy process of writing and researching. For a masters degree, this might involve conducting a preliminary review of pertinent literature, as a base to build upon. Nevertheless, both proposals for an undergraduate and a masters degree dissertation should have clearly stated aims and objectives of the project, along with a working title.

With both an undergraduate and a masters degree dissertation, the same academic rules and regulations will apply, which includes rules pertaining to referencing and citations (with different courses tending to demand different referencing styles), and rules pertaining to plagiarism. It is therefore important to read your course handbook when it comes to referencing and plagiarism, so that no elementary mistakes are made. Moreover, at masters degree level, any discrepancies in these areas are likely to be punished even more harshly, with it being expected that such relatively rudimentary rules in academia will be adhered to. Furthermore, personal tutors and supervisors will be available to assist on both an undergraduate and a masters degree dissertation, but there is likely to be more guidance when it comes to an undergraduate dissertation, simply because at masters level it is expected that by this stage, students know what they are doing, having already gone through the process of writing a dissertation before during their undergraduate work. Finally, with regards to the similarities between an undergraduate and a masters degree dissertation, both will need a good deal of planning, as both are long-term projects (or at least, they’re supposed to be!) – with a masters degree perhaps requiring an even greater degree of planning due to the length generally being around fifty per cent longer. What you will need for this then, is a timescale chart saying what you will do, and when, and this should be rigidly stuck to, whilst plans will also need to be made with regard to the content of the work too, which your proposal should detail. Of course, this can be deviated from and amended as the work progresses, and as you discover new things about your topic, but a good plan can go a long ways towards the eventual success of your project.

The Differences Between Undergraduate and Masters Dissertations

There are a number of notable differences to highlight between an undergraduate and a masters degree dissertation, but it should be noted that these differences are not as stark as those between an undergraduate dissertation and a PhD thesis. However, some of the differences include a masters degree dissertation tending to be longer than an undergraduate degree dissertation, with 10,000 words being about average for an undergraduate degree dissertation, and 15,000 words being about average for a masters degree dissertation. This means that, as noted, a masters degree dissertation is around fifty per cent longer than an undergraduate degree dissertation, which is a considerable increase. In addition, it should also be noted that the standard for a masters degree dissertation tends to be higher than for an undergraduate degree dissertation, although this is difficult to quantify. However, a general rule of thumb could be that a grade B at undergraduate level will be marked as a grade C at masters degree level, or a grade A at undergraduate level will be marked as a grade B at masters degree level – and so on. Therefore, in order to achieve a pass with your masters degree dissertation, you will have to work that much harder.

Furthermore, it is also inevitable that you will need to include more references for your masters degree dissertation compared to your undergraduate degree dissertation, due primarily to the increased length of the piece, along with the expectation of a more in-depth study, and the harsher grading of the piece. Thus, for a 15,000 word masters dissertation, one might expect somewhere in the region of 100 sources, whereas for a 10,000 word undergraduate dissertation, one might expect somewhere around 60 sources, to achieve a comfortable pass. Moreover, the quality of these sources at masters degree level will be expected to be of a better quality, and this will mean including more peer-reviewed journal articles, academic books, and official reports, rather than using any newspaper articles, websites, or other less reputable sources. In addition, you can also expect the research proposal element of a masters degree dissertation to be more in-depth than you experienced at undergraduate level, due to the increased length, and the expectation of a more in-depth study. Therefore, you will need to do a larger bulk of the work from the get-go, rather than starting off with some vague idea, and developing it as you go along. However, this might actually save you some time in the long run, as you will know exactly what you are going to do, right from the very start. And finally, you can expect to be given a much greater amount of autonomy in your masters degree dissertation than you were given in your undergraduate degree dissertation, and so you will need to have already acquired some good study habits and discipline – as there is likely to be much less ‘hand-holding’ from your tutor, and less pushing for you to complete chapters on time. 

Final Thoughts… In conclusion then, it is clear that there are a number of similarities and differences between undergraduate and masters degree dissertations, and these similarities and differences should be noted. While there is not a huge difference between undergraduate and masters degree dissertations, the step up in standard, the addition of more references, and the greater length of the piece should be planned for, and work should be conducted in a much more autonomous fashion with such postgraduate work.

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